The Origins of Euro-American Settlement

The John Oliver Cabin (ca 1820s)

The John Oliver Cabin (ca 1820s)


by kyra bowman

It was the fall of 1818 when John and Lucretia Oliver made the trek to the cove that Joshua Jobe told them about. The appeal that drew John in was the land- land that he could call his own. The pride felt in owning land and improving his social as well as economic status. The picture above is the cabin that John Oliver built in the 1820s[1], and the land that greeted the Olivers that fall. In this description, you will see how tough yet beneficial early settlement in Cades Cove was.

It was not until the Olivers arrived in the cove that they realized that it was not going to be easy making John’s dream farm a reality. The first concern was coexisting in the cove with the Cherokee Indians[2]. The Cherokee were not impressed with the random white settlers coming into the cove. Lucretia was deathly afraid and was very weary of them. John was slightly weary, but not a large amount as fought alongside the Indians in the War of 1812 at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend[3]. It seemed that the Cherokee were not quite bothered by the Olivers and did not approach them much. All seemed fine for the Oliver’s homestead in the cove, until winter came into the cove.

The winter of 1818-1819 was harsh to the Olivers. There was heavy snow and freezing temperatures. John did not have much experience in hunting game and did not have the correct supplies to be able to survive the winter. Struggling with starvation, Lucretia was convinced that they would have died before the spring of 1819 arrived. What saved them was the generous gift of dried pumpkins given to them from the Cherokee[4]. The Cherokee were not as hostile as the Olivers were just one white family causing no harm to them.

After surviving the winter, John started farming his land. He borrowed techniques from the Cherokee to make his farm successful. Another crucial element in his farming was the fertile limestone-based soil[5] in the cove. The Olivers homestead was a major success in the cove, letting people know that it was possible to settle in Cades Cove, causing a huge movement of white settlers to come to the cove.

In the picture, you have the cabin in the foreground, the meadow in the middle ground, and the mountains in the background. The Oliver’s Cabin symbolizes John’s dream of his own land. The meadow in front of Oliver’s cabin represents the large influx of settlers. The cove floor was cleared for farming to support the hundreds of settlers in the cove. With clearing the cove, many native species were taken out and endangered. For example, the American chestnut went extinct[6]. This extinction was a direct correlation of the major cove clearing. However, the clearing allowed Cades Cove to support a prosperous settlement. The limestone-based soil, clearing, and intensive land use allowed annual harvest to be produced and support permanent settlement in the cove. The permanent presence of high density of humans altered the landscape of Cades Cove in 1819 and effects the cove today[7]. The mountains represent the struggles that the Olivers encountered in the early settlement of the Cove. The mountains are also a key symbol of how nature shaped their lifestyle and culture. This aspect is one of the themes seen throughout the Appalachia region- the theme of nature and culture.

The Appalachian theme of nature and culture can be seen clearly in this picture. The mountains played a key role in developing their egalitarian society. Although not entirely isolated from the rest of American society, the cove was somewhat insulated from broader cultural changes due to the nature of the landscape.  How they did their business was also influenced by nature as it was difficult to travel due to the terrain and lack of roads. The landscape changed over time to fit the population and demands of the cove. Most importantly, the landscape created many problems to the first early settlers but lead to be very beneficial to them in the end. John Oliver’s cabin shows what kind of resources were available in that time and how the people of Cades Cove lived.


[1] Dunn, Durwood, Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Community: 1818-1937, pg. 5

[2] Dunn, Durwood, Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Community: 1818-1937, pg. 4

[3] Dunn, Durwood, Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Community: 1818-1937, pg. 2

[4] Dunn, Durwood, Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Community: 1818-1937, pg.  9

[5] Dunn, Durwood, Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Community: 1818-1937, pg. 11

[6] Jantz, Claire, “Cades Cove: Reconstructing Human Impacts on the Environment, and Conservation Before Euro-American Settlement” in Howell, ed., Culture, Environment, and Conservation in the Appalachia South (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), pg. 54

[7] Jantz, Claire, “Cades Cove: Reconstructing Human Impacts on the Environment and Conservation Before Euro-American Settlement”, pg. 55